By Dylan Cooper, columnist
Coming to the end of a year such as this can lead to some very in-depth reminiscing of the past. Being 2020, let us take a look back at the last 20 years of outdoors in Virginia. When I ponder about the times I have spent in the hills and valleys of this state, I am simply amazed when I realize the extensive changes undergone in the timespan of just one generation. Join me by asking yourself the following series of questions and answer them with today’s observations and think back 20 years to recollect your time spent in the fields and streams.
How do you learn more about the outdoors (besides being in the outdoors)? You’d think I was a Martian if I had told you in 2001 that in 2020 a top answer is: on your mobile phone listening to a hunting podcast on Youtube that you found via a Facebook friend who shared it to a statewide hunting group. Instead, I think you might’ve responded with: a copy of Outdoor Life from the supermarket shelf, catching an episode of Tom Miranda on ESPN on Saturday mornings, or clipping out an article in your local paper by writers like Gerald Almy.
How do you traverse the waters of your local fishing hole? Flat bottom boat, canoe, or hip boots were probable answers two decades ago. A state landing or private property from a family friend will get you access. That hasn’t changed too much. The popularity of canoes have been replaced by kayaks or float tubes, PVC hip boots discarded for neoprene or breathable chest waders, and jon boats with a pinging depth finder are now cast aside for sparkling bass boats with both electric and gas motors and fish finders that leave no minnow unseen for 80+ feet to each side of the boat.
As far as access nowadays, it seems to be getting harder to obtain permission from anyone to get on private property, and now the VA Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has changed the state landing access for the foreseeable future as well. Starting January 1, 2021, in order to use a DWR-owned or managed boat landing, you must possess a Virginia hunting or fishing license, current boat registration, Restore the Wild membership, or an access permit. For those that aren’t hunters or fishermen/women, the access permit is the cheapest option at $4 daily or $23 annually that also allows access to the DWR public lakes and WMAs. This applies to only those over 16 years old. The penalty for not having one of them while using these DWR resources has been announced as a summons with a $50 fine plus court costs. The justification for the move is to create an “equitable access” and fund the upkeep of these resources under an increasing demand. Concern has been raised by recreational outfitters (i.e. “canoe companies”) about the potential impact on their businesses to have each customer buy a permit, so the state has also created a Group Access permit for the outfitters to obtain instead of all the individuals.
How do you scout for deer? In the year 2001, you might say other than hunting, you would take a Sunday drive to scan the crop fields or into the Park to see what activity was happening in the deer woods from your windshield. Maybe you go out after a heavy rain or light snow to find fresh tracks, droppings, or other sign. You might’ve even said you hang thread across likely deer trails at differing heights and if you came back to find even the top string knocked down, you knew you were on the trail of a Virginia giant.
Today, we have technology to thank for making scouting a breeze. From the comfort of the couch, we can check cellular scouting cameras, scroll through various internet pages for other hunters’ reports, or use a mobile app to map out a stand location using topo, weather, aerials, and property info. With advanced forecasting, we can plan a hunt a week or two in advance so we can take PTO in order to catch an incoming cold front, and plan what to wear, and where to hunt based on the wind direction, cloud cover, precipitation, etc. We have mountains more advantage to bagging that Virginia giant now.
How do you find out where to take a hike? An atlas from your bookshelf, a park map, or a recommendation from someone at the ranger station are your best bets in 2001. Now you might see someone’s Instagram pic from the top of Old Rag, pull up your OnX app, or just “google it.”
How do you show off the deer you harvested? In 2020, most likely the first thing after a harvest is a group text or social media post with a picture from your smartphone and you’ll get congratulatory comments to read before you’ve even left the woods. The deer gets checked online and you drive straight home or to the processor. In 2001, I guarantee you were excited to get your name on the board at the local check station and even better if they were posting Polaroids of you with it in the back of your S10. Ol’ timers on the bench out front would come check it out, give you a pat on the back or a handshake, and then swap stories with you. If you felt showy, you rode around town with the tailgate down and made sure to hit up the supermarket parking lot, McDonald’s drive-thru, and your hunting buddy’s neighborhood on your way home to hang it on the skinning pole. A neighbor would come over to help skin it and take your picture that you wouldn’t get back for weeks, and then you’d mail it to the local paper for their trophy page. I can personally say that this was a very encouraging event for a youth hunter that I’m afraid has disappeared for the next generation.
DWR has made some changes that will have long-lasting effects on such past traditions. Starting in 2021, all game harvest reporting must be done electronically. This means all hunters who harvest a deer, turkey, bear, bobcat, or elk will need to check their harvest via the department’s telephone line, website, or mobile app. Checking game has been required for more than 70 years in Virginia after being initiated in 1947. DWR says they are grateful for the decades of service provided by the check station operators but last year the vast majority of all game was checked electronically.
At PageValley News, we would like to bring a little tradition back to the community. We are holding a 2020 Hunting Photo Contest for our Page County residents to submit a photo of them with their harvest from this season with a little blurb about the hunt! The best five or six submissions will be posted on the PVN website. Please submit them by Jan. 10, 2021 via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dylan Cooper is a Page County native and graduate of Luray High School and Virginia Tech. He is a stream restoration specialist for a local non-profit and a registered professional engineer in the state of Virginia. Avid outdoorsman and ardent environmentalist, he resides in Luray with his wife and dogs.